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Rural counties reported a record number of new Covid-19 deaths and infections last week, but a more modest rate of growth in new cases could be a sign that the current surge is leveling off.

More than 3,800 rural residents died of Covid-19-related causes in the week of December 6-12, an increase of 6% from the previous week.

Of the 42,000 Covid-related deaths that have been reported in rural counties since the start of the pandemic nine months ago, more than half have occurred in the past 2 1/2 months.

There were nearly 221,000 new infections reported in rural counties last week. That was 4% higher than the previous record of approximately 216,000 set one month ago, the week before Thanksgiving.

Since Thanksgiving, the rate of increase in new infections has leveled off a bit in rural counties. Metropolitan counties, however, have not had a similar reprieve.

The Daily Yonder’s Covid-19 report covers a one-week period, from Sunday, December 6 to Saturday, December 12. Our reports use data from the nonprofit USA Facts.

Deaths

  • Rural counties reported 3,818 new deaths for the week. In the past six weeks, the weekly death toll has more than doubled.
  • Rural America’s record-setting numbers are part of a national trend. Metropolitan counties set a record for deaths for the third consecutive week, with 12,441.
  • The weekly death rate continues to be significantly higher in rural areas than urban ones (8.3 per 100,000 for rural vs. 4.5 per 100,000 for urban). The rural death rate first exceeded the urban rate in early August.

Rate of Increase Leveling Off?

  • Before Thanksgiving the nation (both rural and urban) saw a relentless increase in the weekly number of new infections. The acceleration started in mid-September and continued for about two months. During the period, the weekly number of new infections nationally increased by about 400%. New infections per week in rural areas grew by about 450%.
  • The rate of increase has leveled off since mid-November. The number of new cases each week is still going up, but not as fast. After dropping by 8% the week of Thanksgiving, rural America’s rate of increase in new infections has climbed by 8% and 4% in subsequent weeks. That’s significantly better than in early November, when rural counties had a rate of increase over 30% for two weeks in a row.
  • Metropolitan counties have also seen a moderated rate of increase since Thanksgiving, but their rate remains higher than rural areas. Metro counties had a flat rate of increase the week of Thanksgiving and 15.5% and 14.6% in the two weeks following.

Red-Zone Counties

  • A record-breaking 95% of all U.S. counties are in the red zone, meaning they have a weekly new infection rate of 100 cases per 100,000. The White House Coronavirus Task Force defines this as out of control, meaning localities should take additional measures to control the virus. (See an example of White House reports about North Dakota and the U.S.)
  • All but 124 of the nation’s 1,976 of rural counties (94%) are in the red zone. The percentage of metropolitan counties is even higher – 98%, or all but 19 of the nation’s 1,165 metropolitan counties.

Very High Counties

  • About a third of all U.S. counties have new infection rates that are “very high” – defined as more than 500 new cases per week per 100,000. (Counties with very-high infection rates are included in the red-zone county numbers above). In rural America, 767 counties are in the very-high category, while 391 metropolitan counties are in that category.
  • The number of rural counties with very-high rates of new infections has declined in the past month while the number of metropolitan counties in that category has increased.